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Mimeng and ‘Self-Media’ under Attack for Promoting Fake News Stories to Chinese Readers

Chinese ‘zimeiti’ or ‘self media’ have become a topic of discussion after this Mimeng scandal.

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China’s “Queen of Self-media,” Mimeng, is under attack after publishing a story that has been labeled ‘fake news.’ The scandal has triggered discussions on the status-quo of Zimeiti (自媒体/We Media) on the Chinese internet.

It was one of the most-discussed topics on Weibo and WeChat right before the Chinese New Year: the scandal involving Chinese blogging account ‘Mimeng’ (咪蒙), which sparked discussions on Mimeng herself and on the regulation and responsibility of ‘we media’ accounts on the Chinese internet.

Who or what is ‘Mimeng’? First and foremost, Mimeng is an online social media account with an enormous fanbase: 13 million followers on WeChat, 2.6 followers on Weibo.

The person behind the Mimeng blogging account is Ma Ling (马凌), a Chinese female author and Literature graduate who was born in 1976 in Sichuan’s Nanchong.

Over the past few years, ‘Mimeng’ has grown into a so-called ‘we media’ or ‘self media’ platform (zimeiti 自媒体), referring to private, independent, online publishing accounts that get their content across through blogs, podcasts, and other online channels. Mimeng is now more than Ma Ling alone: there’s an entire team behind it.

Mimeng has been controversial for years because of its clickbait titles and controversial stances on various issues. The topics most addressed in Mimeng’s publications are relationships between men and women, love, marriage, quarreling, and extramarital affairs.

Previous articles published by Mimeng, who is a self-labeled ‘feminist’ (and often mocked for it), include titles such as “This Is Why You’re Poor,” “Jealously Means Progress,” “I Love Money, It’s True,” “Men Don’t Cheat for Sex,” or “How to Kill Your Wife.”

Besides its content, there are also other reasons why Mimeng has triggered controversy in the past. The fact that Mimeng charges a staggering amount of money to advertisers, for example, is also something that previously became a topic of discussion – Mimeng allegedly charges some 750,000 yuan ($113,000) for a post mention.

 

SELLING FAKE STORIES

As an influential We Media source, we must take on our social responsibility

 

This time, however, Mimeng is hit by the biggest controversy thus far. The media group is under attack after publishing a story that turned out to be (partly) fabricated. The story was published on a WeChat account called Talented Limited Youth (才华有限青年), which is registered under the same legal entity as Mimeng. Its primary author, according to Sixth Tone, is a former intern of Ma Ling called Yang Yueduo.

The publication in question is a long story titled “The Death of a Top Scorer from a Poor Family” (“一个出身寒门的状元之死”) which allegedly portrayed the short life of the author’s old classmate: a young, bright mind, born in an impoverished family in Sichuan province. In the story, the protagonist did all he could to create a better life for him and his family.

He studied hard, got the best university entrance score of his city, and successfully graduated from university. But despite his efforts to start a life in the big city, he failed to succeed and tragically died of cancer at the young age of 24.

Shortly after publication, the moving and tragic story went viral on social media. However, several details made online readers doubt the story’s authenticity. It did not take long before readers proved that several aspects of the story were indeed untrue.

In light of the fake news allegations, Talented Limited Youth quickly deleted the story from WeChat. They also issued a statement defending the story’s authenticity, explaining that for privacy reasons, various details of the story were altered. According to Beijing News, Talented Limited Youth was then banned from posting on WeChat for 60 days.

In response to the allegations, Mimeng offered its “sincerest apologies” on Weibo on February 1st, saying: “The Mimeng Group has decided to completely withdraw from Weibo and take a two-month break from WeChat. We will use that time to carry out serious and profound self-reflection.” The post continued saying that “as an influential We Media source, we must take on our social responsibility and pass on positive energy and values.”

The announcement went trending under the hashtag “Mimeng Shuts Down Weibo Indefinitely” (#咪蒙微博永久关停#), which has received over 210 million views at time of writing.

 

POISONED CHICKEN SOUP

Mimeng, for you, patriotism is only business

 

On social media, there is a clear divide between those who support and oppose Mimeng. While some are calling for a “complete shutdown” of Mimeng, there are also those who say they will keep on following Mimeng and that they enjoy their publications.

The controversial Mimeng account has even brought about a so-called “Following Mimeng Rate” (含咪率), a number based on how many of your WeChat friends are following Mimeng‘s public WeChat account (by checking Mimeng’s account on WeChat, WeChat users can see how many of their friends are following this account).

Mimeng opposers allege that the more friends you have that follow the Miming account, the more likely you are “to fail in life.”

The official Weibo account of the Jiangsu Public Security’s Bureau of ‘Internet Safety’ (@江苏网警) is also a clear Mimeng opposer. Last week, they lashed out against Mimeng in a post titled “Mimeng, for you, patriotism is only business.”

The post hints at Mimeng’s inconsistent stance on patriotism, and it included screenshots from two earlier Mimeng posts from 2013 and 2016, one in which patriotism is referred to as a kind of “forced love,” and the other one saying: “I’ll love my country forever, its greatness will forever move me to tears.”

The post by the Jiangsu Bureau itself then also blew up on Weibo, with the hashtag “Jiangsu Internet Police calls out Mimeng” (#江苏网警点名咪蒙#) soon gaining over 210 million views. In the comment sections, many people criticize Mimeng for “deceiving people,” “promoting negative values” and “using anything to get clicks.”

One person wrote: “These self-regulated media only care about making money, they have no sense of social responsibility.”

Others said that the fake news story was nothing but ‘poisoned chicken soup’ (毒鸡汤).

This is a term that is often used to describe Mimeng’s content, and that of other self-media accounts, meaning that from the outside, it looks like “feel-good content” or “chicken soup [for the soul]” while it is actually ‘poisonous’ content with a marketing strategy or money-making machine behind it.

 

ZIMEITI CHAOS

Self- media cannot become a spiritual pyramid scheme

 

The Mimeng case has led to discussions in Chinese media on the status of ‘we media’ or ‘self-media’ platforms and their influence.

People’s Daily responded to the Mimeng scandal with a post on February 1st titled “Self-media Cannot Become a Spiritual Pyramid Scheme” (“自媒体不能搞成精神传销”), which argued that unless self-media accounts such as Mimeng actually work on establishing “healthy social values,” their apologies are only a way to temporarily dodge negative public attention.

In late January, Chongqing Internet authorities launched an investigation into 48 ‘self-media’ accounts, suspending two for spreading “fake news.”

State media outlet China News published an article, also this week, that describes ‘self-media’ as a ‘hypermarket’ where publishers will go to extreme measures, such as selling ‘fake news’ for clicks, spreading negative influences and anxiety among the people.

But these discussions are somewhat blurred, as it is not entirely clear what ‘self-media’ actually is in this context. Generally speaking, the term could include any micro-blogger who identifies themselves as ‘self-media’ or ‘we media’ (zimeiti 自媒体). But in the current discussion, it seems to only relate to those publishing accounts that have a certain influence on social media and the (online) media environment, posing a challenge to traditional news outlets.

Some definitions of Chinese ‘we media’ say it is basically is “an umbrella term for self-posted content on social media platforms” (Qin 2016; Jiang & Sun 2017) – this suggests that everyone who is active on WeChat and Weibo or elsewhere is basically in ‘self-media.’

A clearer description is given by Week in China, writing that “zimeiti typically operate as social media accounts run by individuals or as small firms established by a handful of former journalists.”

What makes it different from any other social media account, is that in ‘we-media’ or ‘zimeiti’ “the blogging has been professionalized and that the authors can make a living from it” (WiC 2018). It is a trend that has become especially visible in China’s online environment since 2012-2014.

This highly commercial side of ‘we media’ matters. If a publisher, such as Mimeng, charges advertisers exorbitant amounts of money, they also have to maintain a certain number of readers. They don’t just post as a hobby, it is serious business.

In a highly competitive online media environment, where hundreds of media outlets are fighting over the clicks of China’s online population of over 800 people, clickbait titles have almost become somewhat of a necessity for some of these publishers, with some even resorting to publishing “fake news” to get the attention – and the clicks.

China’s Newsweek Magazine (新闻周刊) calls the situation at hand a “self-media chaos” (自媒体乱象) that poses an “unprecedented challenge” for governing society in the 3.0 era. They call for “healthy development of self-media” and better legislation to control the mushrooming zimeiti, that, despite strong online censorship, are not as tightly controlled as China’s traditional media.

“Nowadays, we have less and less intellectuals, and more and more ‘people selling words.’ The chaos of self-media needs to be controlled,” one commenter on Weibo says (@ZY盒子).

But other people deem that readers themselves should pick what they read instead of authorities regulating it for them: “The important thing is that every reader must have the independence to judge for themselves [what they read]; just let the ‘poisonous chicken soup’ [naturally] lose their market.”

The Mimeng scandal shows that for social media accounts with a large following, one misstep can have huge consequences. This is something that Papi Jiang, a ‘self-media’ personality who became huge in 2015/2016, also experienced; she was reprimanded for disseminating “vulgar language and content” in April of 2016.

Very similar to Mimeng’s statement, Papi also issued an apology at the time, saying she supported the requirement for correction, and that she would attempt to convey “positive power” (正能量) in the future. “As a media personality,” she said, “I will watch my words and my image.” Papi’s CEO also expressed the company’s willingness to produce “healthier contents.” At the time, her videos were temporarily taken offline.

Meanwhile, some people think that the fact that Mimeng will stay silent for the coming two months is not necessarily a bad thing for the publisher: “They can take an extra long Spring Festival holiday.” As for Mimeng’s Weibo ‘holiday’ – that one is likely to be permanent.

By Gabi Verberg and Manya Koetse

References
-Qin, Amy. 2016. “China’s Viral Idol: Papi Jiang, a Girl Next Door With Attitude.” New York Times, 24 Aug https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/25/arts/international/chinas-viral-idol-papi-jiang-a-girl-next-door-with-attitude.html [2.6.19].
-Sun, Yanran and Jiang. 2017. “A Study on the Effectiveness of We-Media as a Platform for Intercultural Communication.” In New Media and Chinese Society, Ke Xue & Mingyang Yu (Eds.), 271-284. Singapore: Springer.
-WiC. 2018. “Headline earnings – Zimeiti hunt media profits but they still need to play by the rules.” Week in China, 15 June https://www.weekinchina.com/2018/06/headline-earnings/ [2.6.19].

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Stories that are authored by the What's on Weibo Team are the stories that multiple authors contributed to. Please check the names at the end of the articles to see who the authors are.

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About Lipstick King’s Comeback and His ‘Mysterious’ Disappearance

After Li Jiaqi’s return to livestreaming, the ‘tank cake incident’ has become the elephant in the room on social media.

Manya Koetse

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Earlier this week, the return of China’s famous livestreamer Li Jiaqi, also known as the ‘Lipstick King’, became a hot topic on Chinese social media where his three-month ‘disappearance’ from the social commerce scene triggered online discussions.

He is known as Austin Li, Lipstick King, or Lipstick Brother, but most of all he is known as one of China’s most successful e-commerce livestreaming hosts.

After being offline for over 100 days, Li Jiaqi (李佳琦) finally came back and did a livestreaming session on September 20th, attracting over 60 million viewers and selling over $17 million in products.

The 30-year-old beauty influencer, a former L’Oreal beauty consultant, rose to fame in 2017 after he became a successful livestreamer focusing on lipstick and other beauty products.

Li broke several records during his live streaming career. In 2018, he broke the Guinness World Record for “the most lipstick applications in 30 seconds.” He once sold 15000 lipsticks in 5 minutes, and also managed to apply 380 different lipsticks in another seven-hour live stream session. Li made international headlines in 2021 when he sold $1.9 billion in goods during a 12-hour-long promotion livestream for Alibaba’s shopping festival.

But during a Taobao livestream on June 3rd of this year, something peculiar happened. After Li Jiaqi and his co-host introduced an interestingly shaped chocolate cake – which seemed to resemble a tank, – a male assistant in the back mentioned something about the sound of shooting coming from a tank (“坦克突突”).

Although Li Jiaqi and the others laughed about the comment, Li also seemed a bit unsure and the woman next to him then said: “Stay tuned for 23:00 to see if Li Jiaqi and I will still be in this position.”

The session then suddenly stopped, and at 23:38 that night Li wrote on Weibo that the channel was experiencing some “technical problems.”

But those “technical problems” lasted, and Li did not come back. His June 3rd post about the technical problems would be the last one on his Weibo account for the months to come.

The ‘cake tank incident’ (坦克蛋糕事件) occurred on the night before June 4, the 33rd anniversary of the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student demonstrations. The iconic image of the so-called ‘tank man‘ blocking the tanks at Tiananmen has become world famous and is censored on China’s internet. The control of information flows is especially strict before and on June 4, making Li’s ‘tank cake incident’ all the more controversial.

But no official media nor the official Li Jiaqi accounts acknowledged the tank cake incident, and his absence remained unexplained. Meanwhile, there was a silent acknowledgment among netizens that the reason Li was not coming online anymore was related to the ‘tank cake incident.’

During Li’s long hiatus, fans flocked to his Weibo page where they left thousands of messages.

“I’m afraid people have been plotting against you,” many commenters wrote, suggesting that the cake was deliberately introduced by someone else during the livestream as a way to commemorate June 4.

Many fans also expressed their appreciation of Li, saying how watching his streams helped them cope with depression or cheered them up during hard times. “What would we do without you?” some wrote. Even after 80 days without Li Jiaqi’s livestreams, people still commented: “I am waiting for you every day.”

On September 21st, Li Jiaqi finally – and somewhat quietly – returned and some people said they were moved to see their lipstick hero return to the livestream scene.

Although many were overjoyed with Li’s return, it also triggered more conversations on why he had disappeared and what happened to him during the 3+ months of absence. “He talked about a sensitive topic,” one commenter said when a Weibo user asked about Li’s disappearance.

One self-media accountpublished a video titled “Li Jiaqi has returned.” The voiceover repeatedly asks why Li would have disappeared and even speculates about what might have caused it, without once mentioning the tank cake.

“This cracks me up,” one commenter wrote: “On the outside we all know what’s going on, on the inside there’s no information whatsoever.”

“It’s tacit mutual understanding,” some wrote. “It’s the elephant in the room,” others said.

Some people, however, did not care about discussing Li’s disappearance at all anymore and just expressed joy about seeing him again: “It’s like seeing a good friend after being apart for a long time.”

By Manya Koetse 

Elements in the featured image by @karishea and @kaffeebart.

 

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“I Decided Not To Learn English Anymore” Video Goes Viral on Chinese Social Media

“The ‘not learning English anymore’ part actually means she is no longer pursuing the cultural identity behind the language.”

Manya Koetse

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A video in which a Chinese Harvard student shares how she wants to “stop trying to learn English” has gone viral on Chinese social media. While some blame the student for flaunting her privilege, others said the video actually inspires them to study more English.

“Today is September 1st, 2022. The 20th anniversary of me learning English. And I finally decided not to learn it anymore.” This is the beginning of a 7-minute video posted on social media by the Chinese vlogger ‘Tatala’ (@他塔拉).

The video, which Tatala says was submitted as an assignment for a Harvard course on Language & Equality, received over 122,000 likes and the hashtag “When You Decide Not to Learn English Anymore” (#当你决定以后不学英语#) garnered over 110 million views on Weibo over the past few days.

Although the 24-year-old vlogger is critical of how she is perceived as a Chinese non-native English speaker – claiming she will ‘stop trying’ to learn the language, – she is receiving a lot of backlash from netizens who say she is unaware of her own privilege.

In the video, Tatala says she has always been a good student of English, but that she has never been satisfied throughout her language-learning journey. In the video, she gives multiple examples of how her confidence was affected during the process of studying English.

 

“I have my name, in my language, that you didn’t even try to enunciate.”

 

In primary school, Tatala says, her American teacher randomly gave her the name ‘Wency’, which she found hard to pronounce due to the northern Chinese dialect she grew up speaking. She ended up pronouncing ‘Wency’ as ‘Vency’, after which her teacher corrected her again and again: “You are not Vency. You are Wency!” Tatala says: “But he never realized that I was not even Wency. I have my name, in my language, that you didn’t even try to enunciate.”

In middle school, Tatala continued to get high grades in English and she traveled to Britain where she was invited for brunch by a friend, who asked if she preferred ham or turkey. When Tatala asked her friend “what’s the difference?”, she was laughed at by her friend and their mum, who then proceeded to explain the difference between a pig saying ‘oink oink’ and a turkey saying ‘clunk clunk.’ Tatala explains: “I just didn’t know the vocabulary. It’s not that I’m too stupid to recognize animals.”

Although Tatala says her confidence in speaking English peaked during high school, it vanished once she became an international student in Australia, where she had great difficulties understanding what local people were talking about. When she struggled to comprehend English-language works by authors such as Bourdieu or Butler, she worked harder and got high grades, but she was still not satisfied and started dreading her studies.

Tatala then explains: “I realized something went wrong when I took a course called ‘Women in Chinese Literature’ where all the readings were translated from Chinese to English. I read the Chinese version – three chapters per hour – and my Australian classmates read the English version – one chapter a day. Some of them reported the course being too hard and some dropped out, because they did not understand the context behind the words. But that’s what I felt for every single class here.”

 

“Even if I am just not perfect at English, so what? This is my second language.”

 

Tatala’s ‘light bulb’ moment was when she realized that it was not necessarily her level of English that determined how difficult or easy her life was, but so many other factors relating to language: “Native speakers found their lives easier not because their English is better than mine, it is because they had the ‘good fortune’ to be raised in environments where their native language acquisition coincides with the dominant linguistic group,” Tatala says, explaining that she blamed everything on language alone while the barriers she faced also had to do with her own confidence level, communication skills, and the prejudices of others.

Tatala suggests that when someone feels attacked on how they use language, they might feel attacked as a person since their language is also a part of their identity. At the same time, people also judge others and draw conclusions about their background, personality, or intentions solely based on language knowledge, dialect, or how they use a single word.

Tatala’s conclusion is that her use of English is not a result of her not speaking “perfect English” but just a “plurality of [her] identity.” Although she mentions she got into Harvard, she says she is determined to “stop learning English” and to just use language as a “tool” instead.

She says: “Even if I am just not perfect at English, so what? This is my second language. This is the lingua franca I was pushed to learn. No matter how well or how bad I speak English, I will have my voice. Ethic minority, Chinese, Asian, I will have my serpent’s tongue, my woman’s voice, my international student’s voice, my influencer’s voice – I will overcome the tradition of silence.”

Tatala’s video triggered online discussions on Weibo on learning English, but perhaps in a different way than Tatala might have expected it to.

Since Tatala’s English level is so high, and she is an Ivy League student, many people do not relate to the struggles she encountered when speaking English at her level. On the contrary, many just hope to reach such a level of English that they would be able to face these kinds of struggles at all.

 

“Since you decided not to study English in the future, why don’t you drop out of Harvard and come back?”

 

“After watching this video, I decided I want to try my best to study English, improve my vocabulary and speaking skills, and I will try to get 8.5 in the IELTS, so that one day I can help foreigners by giving directions, eat turkey sandwiches in the UK, listen to the small talk of students in Australia, confidently do international work, and use my proficient English to reflect on culture and language hegemony. But I realize it is very unlikely for me to attain that goal in my lifetime.”

“I watched her video and gosh, what can I say, it’s like those experts suggesting it’s better to buy a house than to rent one,” another blogger says, suggesting Tatala is too privileged to see that many people do not have the luxury to stop studying English because of linguistic hegemony.

“Since you decided not to study English in the future, why don’t you drop out of Harvard and come back?” another Weibo user wrote.

There were also people defending Tatala, suggesting that her point was not to discourage others from studying English: “What she expresses in the video is to use English as ‘a tool’ and not to reject a person because you reject their language,” one commenter wrote, with one netizen adding: “The ‘not learning English anymore’ part actually means she is no longer pursuing the cultural identity behind the language.”

Another person posted: “Some of the people here either have problems understanding or they just have bad intentions. ‘Not learning English anymore’ was just an opening line, what the vlogger is conveying here is the prejudice and discrimination in linguistics, which is a common phenomenon in the context of American culture. Ofcourse, we can’t deny the ‘privilege’ of the vlogger, but this doesn’t change the fact that she has come up with though-provoking content.”

“She is saying you should have pride in your mother tongue, she is not really saying you should not learn English. She’s at Harvard – ofcourse that’s not what she’s gonna say.”

Other Weibo users said that they felt that Tatala should not have used a ‘clickbait’ title for a video that discusses cultural confidence. “It’s just awkward that this has even become a trending topic,” one person wrote.

“Not learning English or another foreign language is just unacceptable, especially for students who are still in school. But since our requirements are different, the levels we reach in speaking a foreign language will be different. Because of different cultures and upbringings, we will inescapably have communication barriers between us and native speakers. But we must try hard, because it is always good to have a greater understanding of other cultures and customs. Just don’t be too demanding.”

You can watch Tatala’s video here.

By Manya Koetse 

 

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